Whether you want a little military history, a little undersea adventure, or just a day at the beach, your trip to Key West needs to include a jaunt to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park! Not only is it home to a pre-Civil War fort that was active all the way through the Cuban Missile Crisis, it also has one of the best and largest beaches on the island. Here’s your quick guide to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park!
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Taylor dates back to 1845. Since then, it has served both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy at different times. It also functioned through the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Volunteers in 1968 did some excavating and found long-buried Civil War guns and ammunition, and they soon realized the fort actually contained the largest number of Civil War cannons anywhere. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and then officially became a National Historic Landmark in 1973.
The park currently occupies 54 acres, including Key West’s “best beach,” according to popular opinion! While here, you can swim, snorkel, hike, tour the fort, and more. It’s also a prime location for bird watchers.
More here: Common Travel Planning Mistakes (and how to prevent them)
Hours and Admission
The park is open from 8:00am daily until sundown the same day. The fort is open from 8:00am-5:00pm daily. The cafe and beach rentals are available from 10:00am-5:00pm.
- $4.00 per car (up to 8 people), plus .50 cents per person
- $2.50 per pedestrian
- Annual Individual and Family State Park Passes honored
For details, visit the Florida State Parks Website for Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
Essential info: What to Know Before You Visit Key West
The beach at Fort Taylor is consistently voted the best beach in Key West. The sand is white and beautiful, it’s great for snorkeling because of the clear, shallow water and coral, and because it’s part of the State Park, it’s also clean and peaceful. Umbrellas and lounge chairs are available to rent, but you can also simply claim your spot with your own towel. Water shoes are recommended.
More here: The Best Things to Do in Key West
The beach here is one of the best snorkeling beaches in Key West as well. You can bring your own gear or rent some here at the park, including mask, snorkel, and fins. Spend as much or as little time as you like exploring the coral, fish, and the water!
Read on: What to Know Before You Visit the Florida Keys
The State Park has two short hiking trails: Tropical Hammock Trail and Fort View Trail. Combined, this loop trail is 1.2 miles and relatively flat, so it should only take about 30 minutes to complete.
Also helpful: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
Cayo Hueso Cafe
The Cayo Hueso Cafe is open for lunch, snacks, and dinner from 10:00am-6:00pm daily. You can grab a sandwich, pizza, nachos, coffee, salad, smoothie, and more here to keep you fueled for your adventures during the day.
More here: Where to Eat in Key West
What to Bring with You
There are a few things you just don’t want to forget to bring along. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you remembered to pack these items!
Don’t skimp on these! Coral reefs, and their broken pieces that get washed ashore, are sharp and can cut your feet. They also carry bacteria and can cause a staph infection. Play it safe and bring your water shoes! These are available for both men and women, and come in a rainbow of colors!
Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Travel and Your Feet
Don’t go outside in Florida without water. It’s not a good idea! Bring a reusable bottle with you so you can refill it as often as you need to do so.
Read on: 5 Practical Ways to Travel Sustainably
If you don’t live close to an ocean you probably don’t think about reef safe sunscreen. The chemicals in regular sunscreen are harmful to sealife, including the coral reefs you’re snorkeling out to see for yourself. Reef safe sunscreens, like the one below, are just as effective as regular sunscreens, and they’re dermatologist approved! (Just ask my dermatologist–I did!)
A few more solid favorites: Your Ultimate Guide to Solid Toiletries
Florida has bugs. It just does! Bring your bug repellent, and use it daily! Be sure to apply sunscreen first, allow time for it to soak in, then apply your bug repellent.
You will not regret packing a quick-dry towel! This one is both pretty and functional.
This is an essential item, but particularly so for solo travelers. Instead of leaving your valuables on the beach, get one of these waterproof bags to hold your phone, keys, snacks, etc. while you’re in the water! You won’t have to worry about losing anything, and trust me, it is waterproof! It also floats, so you don’t have to worry about it weighing you down!
Need a good beach read? I have just the thing! My 7-book travel novella series is the perfect beach read. They’re quick, fun, and relatable. Start with Paradise Lost and Found, and then jump into Summer Lost and Found when you finish! All seven books in the series are available on Kindle and for paperback.
Get more beach book recommendations on the
“Travel Book Lists” section of my Shop Page!
Need more about Florida and Key West? Check out my United States Page for everything you need to know and more!
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